There was a time in my life when my relationship with God was about rituals. I connected with Him during prayers and Ramadan and high-energy annual Islamic conferences. The other part of my life, the part that was creative, ambitious, funny, and passionate existed in a secular way. When I saw a brilliant movie, or composed a poem, or sang a song out loud, there was no religion in that. It was just me, embodying the beautiful spirit of what it means to be human. Emotions, passion, intense joy and intense love, the burning need to express myself, endless floods of creative ideas----those, to me, were as relevant to religion as Shakespeare is relevant to my cat.
The result of this was a subconscious tug-of-war that grew over time between the beautiful things in life that allowed me to be me and the structured religious rituals that seemed to stifle. It wasn't until my late teens that I realized I had it all wrong.
I was writing a short story one day and paused to pray. During prayer, the wind was almost knocked out of me when I made a realization that now seems all too obvious. If God created everything, wouldn't that mean that God created writing? And art? And colors? And the need to express myself? Wouldn't that mean He was the owner of every creative idea that crossed my mind, every emotion that was summoned when I was touched by lyrics, every taste bud that exploded when I bit into a mango? Wouldn't that mean that the very satisfaction I got from being creative was instilled in me by Him?
This was the beginning of a paradigm shift on how I viewed God. I realized that the world is an endless enigma meant for us to explore. The deeper we go, the more our realizations lead us back to the Divine. And it wasn't until I realized that all beautiful things in life linked back to God that I approached Islam with real vigor and renewed energy.
Years later, Elevate Culture (EC), a just-launched organization, was born. The organization's premise is that there is a burning need for North American Muslims to create a culture that allows them to be themselves and positively contribute to the wider Northern American culture. EC aims to support aspiring North American Muslim artists every step of the way--through funding, showcasing their work, and networking like-minded people together. We believe that Islamic values and spirit do not serve to crush cultural and artistic values – they are here to refine them.
Atlanta Muslims, we know you have what it takes to lead the way. We've seen many American Muslims in Atlanta express their talents with creative genius, while proudly representing their beliefs –Amir Sulaiman, Kulsoom Abdullah, Umm Zakiyyah, and Tayibbah Taylor, to name a few. We want to help you add your name to that list with whatever your talent is---athletics, film, writing, you name it.
And for all my MIST youth, MAS youth, or plain old marginalized youth, we're looking straight at you. Not convinced that what you have to offer will be accepted by Elevate Culture? Try us.
With the support of like-minded religious leaders, creative individuals, and passionate youth, we believe we can all usher in a new movement in North America, a North American Muslim culture that allows us to be beacons for all that is positive in art and culture. In the process, we will elevate our worship of God—by elevating our culture and embracing who we are, as God created us to be.